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Balsamic Vinegar/Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale


Jason Perlow
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I guess about 10-15 years ago, chefs in everyday italian restaurants started using inexpensive balsamic vinegar in things like salad dressings and as bases for sauces for main dishes -- some kind of chicken breast dish in balsamic vinegar appearing on every menu, for example. This strikes me as extremely odd because the "real deal" (as described on Fat Guy's site http://www.fat-guy.com/article/articleview/240/) is so sparingly used because it is so expensive -- a real 100ml bottle of balsamico tradizionale can cost upwards of 80 dollars or more depending on how old it is. Typically italians use a few drops of this as a condiment for cheese courses or desserts -- salad dressing and sauce bases are almost out of the question unless you're a glutton or its a VERY special occassion.

Ever since that fateful day it seems like the faux version of the ingredient is being over used here, and you almost NEVER see its correct application with the real deal.

Anyone agree with me on this?

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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i don't want to get into the "real" vs. "faux" debate, mostly because i'm not well versed in the two products (although i've been lead to believe that flavor-wise, there are certainly similarities, especially when cooking/reducing).

ANYWHO, i definitely overdosed on this stuff about 3 years ago.  i really don't like it at all these days, and avoid it.  red wine vinegar is by far my favorite (for salads).

with that said, my aversion is probably more for the horribly sweet and syrupy "faux" stuff (which i think often times lacks any acidity) rather than the delicately balanced and beautiful real deal, a few drops of which no doubt can spruce up many a dish.

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Jason

You should be nominated for some sort of award for raising this topic! Can your chest stand any more medals?

The overuse of bad balsamic is a pandemic which must be halted. Cheap balsamic is a truly awful product. We find it on menus everywhere.

I would like to join with Jason to form the DABO society (Diners Against Balsamic Overuse)!

Roger McShane

Foodtourist.com

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Jean Christophe Novelli uses a reduction of balsamic to decorate plates, how old the vinegar is I'm not sure, but it was the real thing rather than the supermarket product.

Bruce Poole uses it to season a salad of confit pork, summer beans and salsa verde. His is 15 years old I think.

Raymond Blanc is a big fan of the stuff and definitely uses the real thing.

I do agree however that in less than excellent restaurants, balsamic is used as a substitute for a modicom of thought and effort.    

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Quote: from Roger McShane on 11:10 pm on Oct. 10, 2001

Jason

You should be nominated for some sort of award for raising this topic! Can your chest stand any more medals?

Roger, Jason's chest has enough surface area to accommodate a few more medals.

I recall Christian Delouvrier of Lespinasse turning out a dish of salmon drizzled with 100-year-old balsamico tradizionale.

Maybe it isn't helpful to speak of "real" and "fake" since everybody may have a different interpretation of where the dividing line falls. Rather, it might make sense to speak of balsamico tradizionale -- which has an exact and strict definition -- and other balsamic vinegar products. Of those other products, there is a range, but even the best of them in my opinion are useful only as ingredients. My use of the term "ingredient" would apply to reductions as well. It would be a waste to reduce the tradizionale product. I can't imagine the subtle flavors remaining intact through that process, though I've never tried it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 4 months later...

I agree with Fat Guy about aceto balsamico tradizionale. This is not vinegar. It is not an ingredient. While I might put a few drops on a slice of parmesan or pecorino, I tend to just put a few drops in spoon and set them out along with other courses. (Or I just take a furtive swig from the bottle.) It really is that good.

I've never tasted any over 25 years old but I was just promised some. Which is how it is I came upon this old thread.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Slightly off topic. We had some Finnish friends staying in Australia for New Years Eve a few years ago. Anyway at about 5 am I went to get a glass of water and found Sartu (the friend) pouring herself a glass of Balsmic. Beening cruel by nature a let her drink a mouthful, waiting for her to wince. To my horror she smiled and said that the wine was very good, the best Australian wine she had tasted. She drank the rest of the bottle, while I spluttered curses about Finnish taste buds.

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Balsamic is a "cheater's" product.  When a bottle says "aged 12 years" it is usually a blend of younger vinegars with a few drops of the older stuff.  Almost all supermarket balsamic in 750 ml bottles is mass produced red wine vinegar with carmelized sugar.  In tasting some of them, you get a huge, acrid aftertaste which is from using cheap, red wine vinegar as a base.  On the other hand, some balsamics are really as represented.  The only way to tell is to taste them.  In my experience as a salesperson of balsamics, I know of several which are exactly as represented, which are complex, smooth, and not very expensive.  Usually I use a mixture of balsamic and either lemon juice or good red wine vinegar in salads.  And after more than a few tastings of balsamics in the 25-100 range, I can tell you that some of these are so divine that the lingering, evolving flavor becomes encrypted in memory  -- I can recall them now, five years later.

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In my experience as a salesperson of balsamics, I know of several which are exactly as represented, which are complex, smooth, and not very expensive.  

Do tell.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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  • 1 year later...

Couldnt find a thread on this...

Right now I have Lucini Reserve Balsamic which costs about $11.

I am looking to really boost the quality of my Balsamic when this runs out and want to get aged BV. Any suggestions for a great value and where to find them. looking to spend $30 - $50. Thanks!

Also, do you find that there is a big difference when you go with aged BV?

Edited by awbrig (log)
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We use the Picci 25 year old balsamic, but I honestly don't think it's worth the money. You can buy a 500ml bottle of 7 or 10 year old balsamic for $15 and throw it in a pot on the stove, boil it down to 250ml and it'll taste better than the 25 year old balsamic.

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Sam's (wine) in Chicago has a good selection of balsamic.

Real balsamic vineger will be labeled "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" and is very expensive. I think it needs to be at 12 years old. It tastes nothing like commercial balsamic. I've had a small 6 ounce bottle which costs like 40 bucks and has lasted over a year. My favorite use is to pour it over a steak.

Sam's also has a real good selection of sherry vinegars - buy one and compare the differences.

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Sam's also has a real good selection of sherry vinegars - buy one and compare the differences.

I have a nice sherry vinegar made by O which comes in a very cool bottle and I haveBRr Cohns Champagne vinegar and a few other nice ones as well. However I am missing a really really nice Balsamic. Ill check Sams thanks!

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awbrig there is a MASSIVE difference in aged balsamicos once you get to the 12 year old level in Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, which is the real deal, as opposed to the industrial made stuff. All Tradizionale comes in a special bottle designed for the Consorzio, the group that represents the producers that can call their vinegar Tradizionale.

You never want to use Tradizionale for cooking though, you want to use just a drop of it to add as a condiment for cheeses or ice cream or sliced fruit, like strawberries. A bottle of 12 year old Tradizionale should cost you like $60. 20, 50, 100 year stuff increases in price exponentially and is even more and more intense in flavor.

There is also a level below Tradizionale grade, which is made with the same process, but for whatever reason, the Consorzio decided not to call it Tradizionale for whatever batch it was. These can be really good bargains if you can find them. I beleive a tradizionale has to be declared like they declare wine vintages, so not all batches make the cut.

Fat Guy wrote a good article about balsamico, but he's in the middle of re-doing his web site and you cant access it now, so perhaps he will post it for you here.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Here's the piece on this by Fat Guy (reprinted here with his permission):

The real stuff . . .

BELOVED FOR its sweet, musty, caramel flavor, a product calling itself balsamic vinegar took America by storm in the 1990s. But don't let pretty labels with scenes of the Italian countryside fool you: That $ 2.99 bottle on the supermarket shelf labeled "Balsamic Vinegar of Modena" has about as much to do with real Italian balsamic vinegar (balsamico tradizionale) as Chateau Margaux has to do with a white-wine spritzer.

Genuine balsamico is the end-result of an incredibly painstaking process that takes a minimum of twelve years and sometimes more than 100. It is produced only in and around two cities in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy: Reggio-Emilia and Modena. Unlike most vinegars, which are simply acidified fruit juice or wine, balsamico starts as freshly crushed grapes reduced through cooking to a near-syrupy state. The viscous liquid is then aged in a series of wooden casks under the eaves of local homes in rooms called acetaie.

As some of the liquid is lost to evaporation over the years, the batches of balsamico are transferred to progressively smaller casks, each of which has been crafted from a different species of wood -- acacia, ash, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, juniper or oak-- that will in turn impart traces of its unique flavors and aromas to the final product. The hand-crafted casks are treasured and often remain in a family for centuries (balsamico has been manufactured in the region since at least the 11th Century).

Balsamico, which is never sold until it's at least twelve years old, starts getting really good at around age 25. By then, on account of reduction and evaporation, what began as half a ton of grapes yields just one gallon of balsamico. Every batch of balsamico that reaches the market must first be rated and approved by the professional tasters at the Consorzio di Produttori Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena -- and about half is rejected. Thus it should come as no surprise that real balsamico is scarce: An entire year's certified production in Modena can be measured in the hundreds of gallons.

"When people taste real balsamico for the first time, they inevitably comment that it doesn’t taste like vinegar at all," reports Mannie Berk, owner of the Rare Wine Co. in Sonoma, California (America's largest importer of real balsamico). "The acidity is so well balanced by the sweetness and other flavor and aroma components -- like herbs, toffee and flowers -- that it's hardly vinegar-like at all. It's sui generis, one of those foods that, like truffles or caviar, truly tastes like nothing else." Tasting balsamicos from different producers reveals that they're as different as wines from different chateaux.

So how do you tell if your balsamico is real? Berk reports that all true balsamico has two features: First, all balsamico bottled since 1988 must be packaged only in the Consorzio's specifically approved bottle (a chubby 100-milileter vial conceived by the famous Milan designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who also designed the Nikon F camera). Second, it will always bear the words balsamico tradizionale on the bottle. "If it's not in that bottle, and it doesn't say those words," explains Berk, "it's just not the genuine article."

And of course you can tell a lot from the price. If it costs $ 2.99, it's likely a wine-vinegar-based product that has been fortified with caramel and other flavorings to give it some hints of balsamic-like flavor. If it costs $ 10 to $ 40 for a bottle, it's likely a substance built around something similar to balsamico tradizionale, though not as heavily reduced and concentrated, often mixed with regular wine vinegar for volume. Brands in this price range, such as the very tasty product made by Fini (available at better supermarkets and many gourmet stores), are a huge improvement over the generic product and make terrific salad dressings. But it's only in the $ 40-plus range that one finds the true commodity. It's expensive, yet real balsamico is so flavorful that just a few drops can transform an entire recipe, and a 100-milileter bottle (the standard size) can last for years. As Berk puts it, "There's as much flavor condensed into a single drop of balsamico tradizionale as there is in a whole bottle of the imitation stuff."

Though vinegar is typically associated with salad dressings, precious balsamico tradizionale is misspent when combined into a recipe. Berk prefers to sprinkle just a few drops over a dish of very ripe, fresh berries or melon (remember, it doesn't actually taste like vinegar), and he also guarantees that a little balsamico adds a whole new dimension to vanilla ice cream (where it both enhances and cuts the sweetness). Others favor drizzling it over chunks of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. There's even an entire book, Balsamico!, by Pamela Sheldon Johns (Ten Speed Press), that shows how to use balsamico to enhance everything from fish to desserts. "But," admits Berk, "I have to confess I love balsamico so much that my favorite way to taste it is straight. Sometimes, when I'm sitting in my kitchen, I find myself just sipping it from a teaspoon."

SOURCES:

A range of balsamico is available from The Rare Wine Co., Sonoma, CA (800-999-4342 or 707-996-4484), Williams-Sonoma (877-812-6235, www.Williams-Sonoma.com), Zingerman's (877-665-3213, www.zingermans.com), and many local gourmet markets.

Edited by Fat Guy (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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awbrig, I have a bottle of 12 year old tradizionale at home and I think I paid just over $50 for mine, in the Bronx.

Yes, I heard the Bronx is well known for their wide array of Balsamico offerings... :smile:

Thx for the info and the great article by FG...

Edited by awbrig (log)
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How long does the really good stuff last (kept in cool, dry, dark place)? My sister and her husband brought me two bottles from Italy. One is sealed, the other not.

This stuff is way, way, way good. No, it's not for cooking. Yes, a little goes a long way. Bears no resemblence to the "grocery store" stuff, which is usually vinegar and sugar!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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We use the Picci 25 year old balsamic, but I honestly don't think it's worth the money.  You can buy a 500ml bottle of 7 or 10 year old balsamic for $15 and throw it in a pot on the stove, boil it down to 250ml and it'll taste better than the 25 year old balsamic.

that's what i've heard from a few pro cooks, too. though they'll boil it down a little more. one italian cook even said that there's so much fraud going on in the balsamico business that you can't really be sure what you get (adding that the amount of "balsamico" on the market should be enough to make anyone suspicious...). based on that advice, my sister tried a reduced industrial brand with some strawberries, and it was delicious.

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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How long does the really good stuff last (kept in cool, dry, dark place)?  My sister and her husband brought me two bottles from Italy.  One is sealed, the other not.

This stuff is way, way, way good.  No, it's not for cooking.  Yes, a little goes a long way.  Bears no resemblence to the "grocery store" stuff, which is usually vinegar and sugar!

It never goes bad. It might concentrate further over time but that's a good thing.

I love tradizionale on a slice of peccorino. :smile: Also great drizzled on pork.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Venturi Schultze is a vinyard on Vancouver Island in Canada producing balsamic vinegar using the tradizionale methods. You can get more information, as well as purchase bottles "blended from barrels begun 6 to 12 years ago" for about $50 Canadian, on their web site here. Has anyone tried their product?

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Once you have sampled the true 12 year old plus product you will realize the intense raisiny flavour can not be duplicated. I agree that reduction can yield a sweet syrupy liquid that is full of concentrated flavour but..............

I wonder if I took six bottles of Corbett Canyon Cabernet and reduced it down to one bottle would I get the concentrated flavour of a great vintage of Heitz Martha's Vineyard. Or if I put kraft Parmessan in a Hyperbolic chamber would i end up with two year old Reggianno?

I do know that if you travel cross country with a Hormel canned ham on the exhaust manifold of your car you don't get Prosciutto di Parma

David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

http://www.starlinebyirion.com/

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